TORONTO — The frame unraveled one stitch at a time, a missed pitch here and an error there, and then fell apart all at once.

It was a sixth inning from hell. It bumbled along without a hit from the Toronto Blue Jays. It began with a two-out walk, and then another, and then continued in that manner until the Orioles saw three runners cross home plate in maddening fashion.

Before then, Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss for Baltimore at Rogers Centre was a pitcher’s duel. Even when right-hander Grayson Rodriguez issued two-out walks to the final two batters he faced, it seemed as though things were under control as right-hander Shintaro Fujinami entered.

But Fujinami walked the first batter he faced on four pitches, and his fifth pitch plunked Matt Chapman. After two strikes, Fujinami also hit Danny Jansen to bring home the second of three runs. And just when it appeared the nightmare was about over — when a weak ground ball dribbled toward Jorge Mateo at shortstop — Mateo booted the baseball, allowing the third and final run to cross.

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The onslaught of accidents piled up to create a dismal inning for a team that has otherwise avoided such displays this season. The Orioles, who still lead the American League as a whole, can flush a loss now and then because they have been few and far between. But what have been even fewer and farther are innings such as the sixth, when an amalgam of maladies struck in quick succession.

“We’ve been playing such good baseball,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Tonight just wasn’t our best.”

That’s what made it most surprising of all, and it cast an unfortunate shadow over an otherwise top-tier outing from Rodriguez. And, a day after a trade deadline in which general manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias secured starting help but couldn’t swing a deal for a second reliever, Fujinami’s poor showing stings.

Before Rodriguez’s two walks in the sixth inning ended his night — and soon gave way for the Blue Jays to score without a hit — Rodriguez continued what he’d done in his other appearances since returning to the big leagues.

“We had some success with the heater, so that’s building blocks,” Rodriguez said. “That’s just adding to the confidence a little bit.”

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In his previous three starts in July, Rodriguez finished at least five innings. His outing last week against the New York Yankees was the best of the bunch, with three hits against him in 6 1/3 scoreless innings.

Wednesday shaped up much the same, with Rodriguez entering the sixth inning with one run on two hits. One of his six strikeouts stranded a runner at second in the fourth. The confidence Rodriguez talks about is visible when he’s on the mound; it’s visible with every huff, when he hurls his four-seam fastball more frequently than he did in his first stint as a major leaguer earlier this season.

“It’s in the bullpen in between starts, being able to compete with myself in that situation,” Rodriguez said, “and then being able to come out against, obviously, a pretty good lineup, a pretty loud stadium, just kind of seeing how you stack up against the AL East, and right now it’s getting a little bit better. But, like I said earlier, we’re not where we want to be yet.”

The two walks to end his outing were some of the few blemishes for Rodriguez. After 96 pitches, Hyde didn’t allow Rodriguez the chance to get himself out of the sixth inning after walking Brandon Belt and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Instead, Hyde turned to Fujinami, a recent trade acquisition who has shown a mixed bag of results with the Orioles. Fujinami struggled to throw strikes in his first two appearances, but his three most recent outings had all been scoreless, showcasing the high-velocity fastball that allowed him to strike out seven batters in 4 2/3 innings.

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Fujinami didn’t have any of that control Wednesday, though. He missed all four of his offerings to George Springer, and he couldn’t find the zone consistently enough thereafter to end the inning before three runs had crossed (two of them charged to Rodriguez).

“The runners on first and second, I was trying to do too much. I wanted to get an out so bad, I was kind of rushing through,” Fujinami said through interpreter Issei Kamada. “Grayson was doing a great job today, and I didn’t want to give up a run. I put a little too much pressure on myself.”

There have been few innings such as the sixth this season, and that’s why the Orioles have found success. When the threads did unravel, however, they unraveled quickly.

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville. 

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